We didn’t see any sunsets in Fairbanks. Actually, we haven’t seen a sunset since we were in Canada. The sun did set when we were in Fairbanks but, we didn’t see any sunsets in Fairbanks. We didn’t stay up late enough to see any sunsets. If you stay awake until the wee hours of the morning, that is staying up way too late.
We departed Fairbanks heading for Denali two days before the longest day of the year. The longest day of the year day, however, was less than one minute longer than when we departed Fairbanks. When talking about sunsets that we didn’t see, and were not going to see, it was good enough.
I understood (in theory) that the sun does set in Fairbanks, in the middle of June, and that sunset would be late. I really didn’t think that in Fairbanks the sun would set after midnight. Sunset was at almost 1 AM (actually 12:47 AM), and sunrise was 2:57 AM. The day length in Fairbanks was ten minutes short of 22 hours long. But that happened and I missed it. I was in bed long before it happened.
Soon after sunset, the sun would rise only after dipping briefly below the horizon, but I didn’t catch on that this means that IT NEVER GETS DARK in Fairbanks. It never even gets close to dark. Twilight in Fairbanks in June is like a partially cloudy day with the sun behind a cloud. That was a huge surprise.
Below the Arctic Circle
About half a day’s drive to the north of Fairbanks the sun does not go down at all on June 21. Instead, it circles the horizon and never really rises high in the sky. At “sunset” the sun touches the horizon in the north only to start climbing and circling again. I couldn’t see myself driving half a day on a bad road to see a sunset that doesn’t happen. Sometimes you just have to believe the reports that the sun doesn’t go down. The further north you go, north of the Arctic Circle the longer the period (in terms of days), the number of days that the sun doesn’t go down increases.
The same thing can be said for the winter north of the Arctic Circle. No sunrises north of the Arctic Circle on December 21. At the Arctic Circle, at sunrise on December 20 and 22, the sun just peaks above the horizon in the south. Instead of the sun circling the horizon on sunny days, the sun peaks above the horizon for a few minutes to perhaps an hour, then multiple hours, changing greatly every day until there are no sunsets. In terms of sunny days even when the sun is “up” it doesn’t mean a nice sunny day north of the Arctic Circle because of the nearly constant cloud cover.
Daily Change in Fairbanks
I mentioned a minute ago that in Fairbanks the length of the day changes greatly each day. As each day passes beyond the solstice, the length of daytime first changes by less than a minute growing until each day is shorter by almost seven minutes each day. Once this rate of change gets above the six minutes per day mark it keeps changing making each day shorter by more than six minutes until November 25. On December 21, the total length of the day is less than four hours from sunrise to sunset. If you were there you probably wouldn’t see sunrise or sunset because of the ice fog.
Ice Fog is common in Fairbanks and I don’t plan on seeing ice fog at minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. I don’t intend to ever see the sun only rise a few degrees and then set less than 4 hours later or ice fog. My RV has wheels and the wheels are part of my heating plan.
Heading to Fairbanks
Including the last travel post about finding the end of the Alaska Highway on June 8th, we continued west of Delta Junction to Fairbanks. We left our group behind in Tok on June 7th and had a few stops along the way. I already described our first stop at Mugrage Hay and Cattle in Delta Junction, so really this post picks up there as we travel further northwest. If you missed the story about getting to the end of the Alaska Highway here is a quick link. Where is the end of the Alaska Highway?
Unlike the mountains west of Tok, as you head west of Delta Junction, the terrain flattens and in terms of big mountains, there aren’t any. Fairbanks is in a vast plain called the Tanana Valley. The Tanana Valley is north of the Alaska Mountain Range and south of the Brooks Range. The river that runs through Fairbanks is named the Chena River and feeds into the Tanana River. So I’m sorry about the lack of great mountain vistas in this post, instead I like the above picture of some geese on Chena Lake. I hope that it is good enough.
One of the places we stayed while heading west was a military-only campground at Birch Lake. The Birch Lake Recreation Area (an Alaska State Park) is next door to the military-only Birch Lake campground. Our intent was to stay three nights at the military campground and use our kayaks to search the shoreline of Birch Lake for moose. This didn’t happen due to the winds across the water that would have made kayaking a little sloppy. The wind however was welcome because it was blowing too hard for the mosquitos to fly and that was a good thing. This was our first Alaska campground that had a mosquito problem.
More wind was forecasted and we were not loving the campground so we left and went a few miles further northwest to the Eielson Air Force Base Family Camp. Essentially we transferred our reservation from one place to another. This really was a case of jumping out of the frying pan into the fire.
The Eielson Air Force Base Family Camp was and has been subject to years of neglect. Without a doubt, it was one of the worst campgrounds we have stayed at since we started our journey as full-time RVers. While at Eielson we accomplished one thing. We searched for a new campground and found a great one at Chena Lake Recreation Area to the east of Fairbanks and to the north of North Pole (the city).
Chena Lake and the Fairbanks Flood
So the next day we moved on and went a few more miles west and stayed at a wonderful campground just to the northwest of Fairbanks. I mentioned the Tanana River Valley earlier. The Tanana River runs east/west to the south of Fairbanks. The Chena River runs through Fairbanks. The Chena River, after flowing west through Fairbanks joins the Tanana River. In 1967 a week-long rain storm in the Chena River drainage caused the worst flood in Alaska’s History. More than 7,000 people were displaced from their homes.
I guess I should also mention the floods associated with the 1964 Alaska earthquake that wiped entire towns off the map and killed people by Tsunami waves far from Alaska also being a big flood problem. In 1965, Alaska also had an even bigger earthquake, also resulting in a Tsunami, but this one didn’t hit populated areas. Overall it is fair to say that in the three-year period, Alaska had a bad run of luck.
I am introducing the story about the Fairbanks flooding in 1967 because it is directly related to our stay at the Chena Lakes Recreation Area. The Chena Lakes Recreation Area was built as part of the flood control project. Included in the project was the creation of the Moose Creek Dam and a twenty-mile-long flood control channel. The campground at Chena Lake was the best we have stayed in both in Alaska and Canada on our trip.
North Pole KOA
Alas, because we cannot camp without water for very long, we left the Chena Lake Recreation Area to rejoin our group at the KOA in North Pole. While there at the KOA we enjoyed the company of our traveling friends. North Pole is to the southeast and next door to Fairbanks. My mother would have loved a visit. Everything at the North Pole is understandably focused on Christmas. Going to and taking pictures at the North Pole was a “mandatory “event. If you go to Fairbanks and don’t go to the North Pole you are missing something big. Another “mandatory” event was going to the Turtle Club.
North of Fairbanks, in the town of Fox, Alaska is a restaurant requiring reservations called the Turtle Club. It was outstanding. At the Turtle Club, you can have your choice of Prime Rib or Surf and Turf featuring Prime Rib and Halibut. An add-on to either meal (and would have been a meal all by itself) was the basket of Jumbo Prawns. If you go to Fairbanks, and eat at the Turtle Club, I promise that you will be bringing home most of the food served to you. I think we had two additional meals from our leftovers.
After our visit to the Turtle Club, we explored Fox. This is the first time we have visited a town called Fox and this visit was pretty late in the day. Fox was the center of gold mining during the Fairbanks gold rush. Even though the sun was high in the sky, all the gold mining exhibits were closed long before our arrival. The exhibits include the most prosperous gold dredge number eight which still sits in the very same place that it did on its last day of operation.
Chena Hot Springs
Seventy miles northeast of Fairbanks on Chena Hot Springs road is the Chena Hot Springs. We made the drive and really enjoyed ourselves. After a long soak in the hot springs, we had another wonderful meal.
We could have stayed longer in Fairbanks, but one of my quests for our trip to Alaska was to visit Denali National Park and stay long enough to get a good picture of the mountain. At most, only 30% of the visitors to Denali National Park get to see the mountain. You would think it would be hard to miss, they named the park after it. It is over 20,000 feet tall and something that big should be obvious, unless it is covered with clouds (as it is most of the time). So the question is, did we see Denali?
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About our links
As you know, our blog income is zero – this allows us to be independent and just tell the truth. We do not get income or commissions. No, we don’t make paid endorsements. We don’t make recommendations but instead, we will tell you what we like (or dislike). The links are only provided as a quick reference to help our readers.
The start of our Alaska Highway story. Going North on the Alaska Highway
The second leg of our Alaska Highway story. Stunning Northern Rockies on the Alaska Highway
Milepost Guidebook found on this website is updated annually and you can use the book even without internet data. First published in 1949 it is the bible for travel in Alaska and northwestern Canada.
Historic Mileposts on the Alaska Highway website with key mileposts
Eielson Air Force Base Bear Lake Famcamp (not recommended)
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